Photo: Ed Carpenter celebrates winning one of his three poles for the Indianapolis 500
There were four. There were three. There are two. Eventually there will be one, and I would be okay with that. I am talking about qualifying days. Granted, we no longer need four days to qualify 33 cars Up until the early 1960s, when speeds were under150 mph, each car took about ten minutes on track to complete a qualification run. Today a car gets in its out lap, warmup lap, four timed circuits and a cool down lap in about six minutes.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced its format for qualifying for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. The basics of the past few years are there. The three cars on the last row on Saturday must defend their spots on Sunday against any cars that ranked 34th or lower the first day. The fastest qualifiers from Saturday run for the pole on Sunday.
The final two hours on Sunday, 4-6 PM, will be on NBC
The one change in wording I like involves the last row shootout. If there are only 33 entries, which should be the case this year, there is no last chance qualifying.
At the other end of the field, however, I’m not sold on the idea. The Fast Nine is gone. Instead, the 12 quickest cars from Saturday will each make a run in a 45 minute period. The fastest six advance to another round of four lap runs within a 30 minute time period.
I get why they are doing this- Sunday content is desperately needed. The cars in these two rounds get national television time- six cars get two appearances on camera. I might be happier with this except for a new twist from the Fast Nine concept. In the Fast Nine, each driver had just one attempt. It was dramatic. There was no margin for error. A driver makes a slight bobble in a turn and loses a chance at the front row.
The new wording says each car is “Guaranteed” one attempt. Multiple attempts are possible if time permits. I think this cheapens the pole. I would prefer that they kept the one shot only format. The release did not specify if cars could wait before making their first run and try to run out the clock on another car looking to make a second run.
Each of the fastest 12 Saturday drivers will get points for making the Sunday round based on the second day results. The pole winner gets 12 points nd each subsequent position receives one point less. I have never been a fan of qualifying points except for the single point for pole that is awarded in every other race during the season. If you have read this blog long enough, you know I’m not a fan of the current points system overall.
The money for winning the pole remains at $100,000 The amount hasn’t changed in nearly 50 years. In 2022 a driver must make three qualification runs to earn the pole, yet he receives the same amount of money as a driver in 1983 took home for just one qualifying run. The prize money needs to increase for the pole by a lot.
With no last row/bumping sessions on Sunday, the published schedule has a Fast 12 practice which ends at 2 pm. Qualifying doesn’t begin until 4 pm, leaving a two hour gap. Since the final two rounds are on NBC, the program probably can’t be moved up.
What to Do?
I appreciate IMS attempting to make Sunday’s schedule more full. The new format still is vulnerable to gaps when there are only 33 entries. I realize the unintended hole was caused by television time slots. What if qualifying was just one day?
Qualify on Saturday. Go to 7 pm if necessary. There will be plenty of daylight left. The schedule would look like this:
8:30 AM- 10:30 AM Practice 2 groups
!1:00 AM- 5:45 PM Qualifying positions 10-33 set
6:15 PM-7:00 PM Fast Nine shootout, one attempt per car.
Sunday could be the practice day which is now held on Monday. It could also serve as the rain date if weather interferes with Saturday’s schedule.
An alternate proposal is to make Saturday (Speedy Saturday?) a practice day and use the above schedule on Sunday.
The advantage of finishing qualifying on Saturday is having the pole winner available on Sunday to appear on NBC during game breaks and Sunday morning shows.
The series and the speedway have struggled to make qualifying more appealing over the last several years. I hope they can settle on a concept that works well, makes everybody happy, and brings back larger crowds. Attendance has been up, but constant and radical format changes confuse the fans. I am interested in hearing your suggestions. Please feel free to comment, and please keep it civil.